LLOYD WEBBER: The Phantom of the Opera (original
motion picture soundtrack)
HORNER: The Legend of Zorro (original motion picture soundtrack)
"CIRCLE OF DRUMS"
Popularity of Andrew Lloyd Webber's The Phantom of the Opera has always mystified me. Although there are several songs that are somewhat ingratiating, generally the music is uninspired—and best when Lloyd Webber is stealing from Puccini. The opening six notes, presumably representing the Phantom's power, reheard many times later, are incredibly banal. Berlioz initiated the idée fixe concept in his 1830 Fantastic Symphony. Use of an identifying "signature tune" has been used often since in major works—but no composer has used it as unimaginatively as Lloyd Webber. Late in 2004, after thousands of stage performances, this $60 million film of Phantom was released, to mixed reviews. Singers in major roles are mediocre; surely Emmy Rossum's singing as the fledgling opera star would not be permitted in a major opera house. Much of the "singing" is actually crooning with the singer inside the microphone. Sets and costumes are elaborate. This many-miked production has unexceptional audio. To read about many of the "goofs" in the film, click here.
We are in another world with James Horner's brilliant score for the 2005 film The Legend of Zorro starring Antonio Banderas and Catherine Zeta-Jones, which apparently cost $15 million more than Phantom's $60 million. I haven't seen the movie, but plan to, if only for Horner's imaginative, evocative score. What a master of instrumentation he is! There's much virtuoso writing here, particularly for trumpet soloist David Washburn and first horn James Thatcher. An appropriately Spanish/flamenco atmosphere has been luxuriously created by Horner, and the huge orchestra (141 players are listed, plus 4 guitarists!) is first-rate. The SACD sound is spectacular, and producers have wisely elected not to overly emphasize dancers or guitarists. A terrific SACD! Highly recommended!
We are indebted to Chesky for their issue of Circle of Drums which was recorded in 1993 but never released commercially. It features Olatunji, the master Nigerian percussionist, whose 1959 Columbia recording Drums of Passion sold more than five million copies world-wide and continues to sell today in a remastering by Sony. Circle of Drums features Olatunji and five other specialists in African percussion in a wide-ranging program of hypnotic rhythms. The recording offers a fine sense of presence and the wide dynamic range presents the instruments with uncommon clarity. This SACD is a fine tribute to Olatunji, who died in April 2003 one day before his 76th birthday.
R.E.B. (March 2006)